by Iain Roberts on 31 July, 2015
Mark Geraghty, the Chief Executive of the Seashell Trust, came to speak to councillors in a public meeting at the Town Hall. He was setting out his plans – still at an early stage – for the charity.
Founded in 1823, the Trust is one of the leading bodies caring for profoundly disabled (mostly deaf-blind) young people. It takes in children from 44 local authorities from Kent to Scotland. It has two schools. The Royal School looks after children aged from 2 to 19. In theory it can take 60 pupils, but due to limitations of the building the current maximum is 50.
The Royal College looks after 19-25 year olds in a much more modern building. Both school and college are rated outstanding by Ofsted and are world-leaders in deaf-blind disabilities. Of this year’s 25 leavers, half are going into employment – not a bad result for any institution, but very impressive for one where the students are profoundly deaf-blind and often have severe learning difficulties.
Based in Heald Green, the Seashell Trust employs more than 500 people, making it one of the largest employers in the borough. They are currently building houses where more children can be cared for on-site, and learn a high degree of self-sufficiency.
The Seashell Trust is having to turn away severely disabled children through lack of room. The school is outdated, designed to meet the needs of different children from a different era and suffering from old age. Chief Executive Mark Geraghty believes the school will become unviable in five years unless something is done.
His plan is to demolish the existing school and build a new one on the same site. The new school would be state-of-the-art, able to cater for 60 children rather than 50, and would secure the work of the Trust for years to come. Along the school Mark wants a new sports hall, conference hall, additional parking and other improvements.
Building a new state-of-the-art school for profoundly disabled young people doesn’t come cheap. The Seashell Trust estimates the whole project will cost between £30 million and £37 million – money they don’t have. They believe that they can raise a good deal from reserves and fundraising, but up to £30 million might need to be raised by other means.
The Seashell Trust own the fields to the north of their site: all the green land between the A34 and Wilmslow Road going up to Sydall Road to Bradshaw Hall Lane in Heald Green. If they could develop that land for general housing they believe it would bring in the money they need to build the new school and develop the charity.
And there lies the challenge! All the land is in the green belt for a start. Development on the green belt can be permitted, but only in exceptional circumstances. Keeping the charity, and its excellent work, going could be just such a circumstance but that’s all got to be discussed.
Plus, raising that sort of money from a land sale would mean hundreds of new houses being built on those fields and all the usual questions about traffic and local resources would need to considered. Like everywhere else in the country, Stockport is required by the government to build new houses (and we need them too) but that doesn’t mean building anywhere.
The Seashell Trust understand these issues, which is why they’re being open and coming to speak to us early. Their employees were told about the proposals today and – with their agreement – we’re telling the public too.
The next stage is the for the Trust to develop more detailed proposals for us all to look at.